Candler students supporting death-row inmate

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Editor’s note: Georgia's parole board declined to commute the death sentence of Kelly Renee Gissendaner. Her execution is set for 7 p.m. ET Sept. 29.

Kelly Gissendaner is scheduled to be executed on Sept. 29, but many United Methodists and other faith leaders are praying and adding their names to a newspaper advertisement that appeals for her life to be spared.

The advertisement will be published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sunday, Sept. 27.

“Our faith traditions and teachings hold that all life is sacred. Regarding the death penalty, we unanimously believe fairness must be paramount. We also believe in the power of mercy,” is part of the message in the advertisement.

Among her strongest supporters are her children, former and other inmates and many students and faculty at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. The Methodist Church, predecessor to The United Methodist Church, officially has opposed the death penalty since 1956.

“In solidarity with their pleas for their mother’s life, in keeping with the value of mercy, and in hope for the good works Kelly could perform during a sentence of life without parole, we ask that Kelly’s life be spared,” the advertisement further states.

“No matter the outcome of Kelly’s case, I want to be able to look back and say I did everything I could to try and save her life,” said Brenna Nicole Lakeson, a third-year student at United Methodist Candler School of Theology who has been active in coordinating prayer vigils for Gissendaner.

“I have never met Kelly, but after reading her beautiful words and hearing what others have to say about her, I have to do everything I can to save her life because that is what I would want someone else to do for me,” Lakeson said.

A prayer service for Gissendaner was held at Emory University just hours after Pope Francis denounced the death penalty in front of a joint session of the U.S. Congress.

“Every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes,” Francis said.

Gissendaner, who was convicted for her part in the murder of her husband in 1998, made a radical change in her life after she graduated from the Certificate for Theological Studies program at Lee Arrendale State Prison, a program sponsored in part by Candler.

Other inmates have credited Gissendaner with saving their lives by speaking words of faith and encouragement to them through the cell walls.

Gissendaner would be the first woman executed in Georgia in 70 years.

In an appeal to the parole board in March, Gissendaner wrote: “It is impossible to put into words the overwhelming sorrow and remorse I feel for my involvement in the murder of my husband, Douglas Gissendaner.

“There are no excuses for what I did. … I have learned firsthand that no one, not even me, is beyond redemption through God’s grace and mercy. … I rely on the steadfast and never-ending love of God.”

A hearing has been set on Sept. 28 in federal court on her request for a stay of her execution.

Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]

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